Harassment – Where Adjudication can go Wrong

by Ian Meagan, Principal Consultant, Human Resources at Executive Connections

In a recent case held by the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), a man accused of sexual harassment was awarded a settlement figure.

In brief the case was as follows:

The un-named restaurant chain summarily sacked the man for gross misconduct after concluding that he engaged in sexual harassment.

The man sued for unfair dismissal and the WRC has ordered the employer to pay the man €6,500 after finding the dismissal was unfair. He denied sexually harassing colleagues.

Eugene Hanly, a WRC adjudication officer, found that the man’s conduct amounted to sexual harassment and that the dismissal was substantially fair. However, he also said the handling of the dismissal from a procedural point of view “was hopelessly flawed”, rendering it unfair.

I normally like to steer away from commenting on such items as outlined above and stick with educational pieces, however as someone who champions HR and indeed the role of those who run organisations both small and large, I was left disgusted with the decision by the WRC.

In writing this article, I want to focus on 2 elements, 1) the practical solution, 2) my opinion on the case itself.

1)The practical solution: It is imperative whether you have 1 employee or 3,000, that you ensure best practice policies and procedures are always in place. It is time consuming and very much a tick the process box approach, however if followed you will avoid awards against you as an employer. On the small business side there is no excuse to have poor HR processes or no policies which can be the case, there are numerous highly competent HR outsource solutions out there – use them, they have the skills and the knowledge. You owe it to your business and to your staff.

2) The WRC finding – The Case
When I read the case in detail, it was very clear that the behaviour was not belonging to the workplace or anywhere and was being administered by the manager of the restaurant –  In this day and age, such behaviour is not tolerated period.

The employer did what was right – remove this individual before further harm is caused – there is no real measure in terms of the effect harassment can have on an innocent member of staff. In this case he was removed.

How a body such as the WRC thought it was equitable to fine the employer €6,500 and effectively reward the accused sexual harasser is beyond me. Not only does it set a precedence, it won’t encourage those suffering in the workplace to have their concerns raised.

Should this case have actually been heard by the WRC? – Should this have not been dealt with by police/courts of the land?.

Was the accused manager that upset with being fired after what he had allegedly done to his colleagues?

The WRC cannot justify and defend – in my opinion, they have rewarded the behaviour of this manager and ignored the victims, including the employer.

Is ticking the boxes more important than the suffering of innocent staff ???

They will argue that they look less at the scenario of the complaint and focus more on whether legislation was breached and the decision against this legislation by the employer being fair.

I personally feel any case which involves sexual harassment should dealt with by an independent body within the WRC which will have an ability to review these types of cases, sensitively for all those involved.

I am not saying the case in this article was not handled correctly, however the optics of rewarding a perpetrator of harassment, is in my opinion, wrong.

Harassment in the workplace creates a host of serious problems. I have no doubt the WRC decision will have elevated these issues, lest we forget the actual victim(s) of the harassment.

The #MeToo movement has been a powerful force in helping to raise awareness of sexual harassment, especially in the workplace.
They height and level of cases reported, unfortunately is the tip of the iceberg. Sensitivity of these cases must prevail, as how they are reported in the media.

Finally, In a long-term study of 522 workers in the US, up to 58% of women and 37% of men reported experiencing some level of sexual harassment. Policies with employment legislation and ticking the box exercises, will not protect these victims. Policies should be carefully written to suit situations where harassment arises

The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform produced an updated Code of Practice on Sexual Harassment and Harassment in 2012.

The code states that employers should adopt, implement and monitor a comprehensive, effective and accessible policy on sexual harassment and harassment.

As stated previously in this article it is imperative that you have adequate HR support within your business to ensure protection for all levels of staff.

Where you do not have this support, there are numerous high-quality outsourced HR solutions available.

Please note the content of this article is provided for information purposes only and is written as an opinion piece. 

About the author
Ian Meagan is a high performing Human Resources consultant with over 10 year’s experience running his own business. He joined Executive Connections to grow out the HR division by assisting companies of all sizes and across all sectors with their HR recruitment requirements. Ian specialises in recruiting HR professionals at management level through to executive roles, also focusing on the following areas recruitment coordination: training/learning & development and employee engagement/compensation & benefits.
The Human Resources division has expansive and focused market knowledge, while providing a dedicated support and delivery structure from experienced HR professionals.

Executive Connections is a niche recruitment consultancy which is agile, creative and disciplined. They are constantly innovating and renovating their suite of services and range of customers. They provide a knowledgeable workforce who adopt a culture of efficiency and resilience who are internally aligned to predicted growth.